Guest Editorial
Carefree: Protect our rights, don’t violate them

By Tom Rawles | December 2, 2009

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tom rawlesWhether you attend Carefree Town Council meetings, read the newspapers or simply talk to your neighbors, one thing is overwhelmingly clear: Carefree faces a fiscal crisis. Carefree is not alone in this regard as the global economic downturn has impacted government entities all over the nation as well as all over Arizona.

This crisis can’t be blamed on any one elected Carefree official any more than it can be blamed on the merchants or town staff.
The issue is not who is to blame; it is how do we fix the problem. Having helped balance both Maricopa County’s and the City of Mesa’s budgets when they faced truly tough times (1993-1995 and 2005-2006, respectively), I know it takes a lot of hard work, creativity and ingenuity to tackle the types of budget shortfalls that now confront Carefree.

But, in addition to the hard work, etc., two other things are vitally important: accountability and transparency. The citizens of Carefree must be involved in the process to the absolute maximum. I don’t mean just the elected officials; I mean everyone. And, most important, if the citizens are going to buy into and accept the difficult decisions that lie ahead, they must feel and believe they are part of the process and that the process is open to all.

It is on this critically important issue I find myself experiencing growing discomfort over the continuation of David Schwan as Carefree’s mayor. Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe Mayor Schwan is a decent man. I have had the privilege of meeting him on several occasions and he was gracious enough to stop and chat with my wife and me at the town’s anniversary celebration. And, this was soon after I had written an op-ed piece explaining why, after initial reluctance, I supported the recall movement against him.

However, as I think about the need for the intense accountability of all of our elected officials during this difficult time, I am deeply troubled by Mayor Schwan’s undeniable record on the issue of citizen participation. He opposed the direct election of mayor. Precisely at the time when more accountability is required, he supported the extension of council member terms to four years, thereby doubling the amount of time between elections. He either directly encouraged the infringement of, or stood silently by while others infringed upon, the rights of the recall volunteers to collect signatures at the Town Hall/Post Office building. He was equally involved or remained above the fray while the town’s staff interfered with the recall movement’s constitutionally-protected political signs. More recently, he voted against giving the citizens of Carefree the maximum amount of time allowed by law to possess, ponder and cast their ballots in town elections. And, finally, he placed, or allowed to be placed, an item on December’s council agenda proposing that citizens be required to pay for the right to cast their mail-in ballots in the town’s recall election.

These public positions and votes are very disturbing to me. I value civil liberties and recognize government’s job is to protect, preserve and secure our rights, not violate them.

Not only is the protection of these cherished rights the most fundamental of all governmental functions, their suppression at a time like this is truly indefensible. Singularly, they may appear innocent enough, but taken as a whole, they represent an unfortunate pattern of repression. That is something no government official should do and it is something no citizen in a democracy should tolerate.

The upcoming election is becoming more and more critical. Our freedoms, rights and liberties are apparently at stake. I urge the citizens of Carefree to think carefully when choosing who should serve this town during these perilous times. Ask yourself whom you trust to protect your rights, the most important issue of all.